Sampling Popular Culture at MegaHalloween

Halloween 2017

MegaHalloween, DeLand, USA: Trying on Identities

This essay also appeared in the Stetson University student newspaper, Hatternetwork, November 18, 2017,,

And, with the title “A Time to Try on New Identities,” in the West Volusia Beacon, November 20-26, 2017, page 7A.

Halloween was as big as ever on Minnesota Avenue, with about 2,000 creepy and cute outfits adorning people from far and wide and from many social backgrounds.  This year, students from my Modern US History class joined me on my front lawn to talk with our animated visitors about how they think up their ideas.  Continue reading

The Uses of History

Historians, the Columbos of Our Cultural Life

Similar versions of this essay have appeared in:

History News Network, August 27, 2017,,

The Huffington Post, August 28, 2017,,

and in Society for US Intellectual History Blog, September 16, 2017,

You don’t have to like the people you study and teach, but as with the TV private investigator Frank Columbo, get to know them.

The death of Thomas Haskell is sad news and a loss to the field of history.  James Kloppenberg, a friend of Haskell’s since their days together as fellow PhD students in History at Stanford University, offers a fine tribute to his great work by highlighting the twin peaks of historical insight that Haskell practiced, “To Understand and to Judge,”  On first reading Haskell’s Emergence of Professional Social Science and “Capitalism and the Origins of the Humanitarian Sensibility,” I found orienting understanding of modern American cultural and intellectual history, about how we think and how we feel.  These lessons are also good reminders that as historians, we don’t have to like what we learn.  Learning the worlds of our study is the mission of the historian.

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Popular Thinking in Political Life, Recent American Politics

What We Can Learn from Fake News

An earlier version of this article appeared in History News Network, July 23, 2017, , and in The Huffington Post, July 25, 2017,


Fake news has both producers and consumers. While it is important to make corrections, the political problem is not the untruths themselves, but the capacity for the fakery to seem likely. For that, it is important to check in on the consumers of fake news to figure out how the untruths appeal. What made them likely stories? Mow down the latest false facts and more will soon sprout until we address those stories and the reasons people believe them.

False facts provide clues about the stories that make the fakery seem true.

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What's DAT?, What’s DAT?—Deficit Attention Tweets

The Many Stories of DAT

Attention becomes more important when there is more to pay attention to.  The information explosion of the modern world has put attention front and center as the gatekeeper of a flood of information, misinformation, and different interpretations about all those facts and claims.  Even the simple acronym, DAT, used on this page for Deficit Attention Tweets, points to oceans of input on many fronts. Continue reading

Sampling Popular Culture at MegaHalloween

Halloween 2016

Halloween Night: Window to Fantasy

Fantasy ruled the night.

I’m not referring to election night, but to MegaHalloween on Minnesota Avenue in DeLand.  I met about 1000 festive and creepy characters, and there must have been at least that many more on the street, making it a carnival.  From my random sampling, as the social scientists say, I got a hint of the taste for fantasy among the outfits with people who graced my front yard.  And fantasy-fueled imagination also meant a lot of characters crossing over into all kinds of combinations.

People dress in outfits from the world around them, like the 4 Doctors including 1 Dr. Decay (how does this one stay in practice?), 1 Tacky Tourist, 6 Football Players and 5 Cheerleaders (including 1 Gothic Cheerleader), 5 Police Officers (one was “Buff”) but only 4 Robbers (1 had his “gun ready” and another was also a Nun!), and 1 Overweight Gen Xer.  They tap long spans of history such as with Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, a Renaissance Woman, Bob Marley, 4 Native American Indians, including 1 Pocahontas, and 2 Flappers; and the natural world with 4 Butterflies, 3 Foxes, including 1 with a sword and 1 downright “Foxy Fox,” 2 Cheetahs, 1 Bunny, and of course 2 Spiders. Continue reading

Campaign 2016

SATIRE: Trump, The Pop Musical; or, A Few Sugary Lyrics to Help Sell the Product

Originally published by the Huffington Post, July 16, 2016,

Now that Trump has triumphed with his nomination by the Republican Party, how can this businessman seize the public imagination on a broader scale?  Consider the marketing that has been central to making “Trump” a household name on TV and at hotels.  Consider music to sell the product.  Get ready, and sing it now: “Love, Love Me!  Love, Love Me!”…

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Back in the Classroom

Marketclysm at the Classroom Door

An earlier version published as “Should We Really Turn College Education Over to the Free Market?” History News Network (March 8, 2016),

Should We Really Turn College Education Over to the Free Market?

In an era when the number of words on Twitter in only two years will exceed the number of words ever published, academic scholars should pay heed to changes in writing and teaching swiftly taking place outside their offices and classrooms.  There are powerful forces calling for briefer expositions and for teaching to appeal to a market that expects and demands such brevity.  While paying attention to those calls, academics should remember that beyond appealing to their audiences, their deeper purpose is to inspire and provoke.  Read more… Continue reading

Sampling Popular Culture at MegaHalloween

Halloween 2015

Small Change Agents at MegaHalloween

…with two essays–a teacher-student pair…. Introducing Stetson Math Major and popular culture enthusiast, Chris Finkle

On Halloween night, everyone got their play on. It’s a time for looking at the world with a twist. And in DeLand, FL, costumed creatures of every stripe converged—well over 2,000 from many towns and many social backgrounds—straining the sidewalks and front lawns, and creating a pop culture peak into the contemporary imagination.

Consider the three sharks swimming up the sidewalks; Continue reading

Sampling Popular Culture at MegaHalloween

Halloween 2014

Feed the Fear a Big Helping of Fun

Halloween on West Minnesota Avenue in DeLand was as big as ever. Joining with some friends, the students and I in an Environmental History class at Stetson University got ready for the MegaEvent by reading a history of chocolate. Learning about the evolution from the decidedly bitter cacao plant into the favorite treat of the modern world was a rather cheerful entrée for meeting well over two thousand children and kids of all ages in outfits of all sorts. However, not all the messages of the season were sweet. Continue reading

Sampling Popular Culture at MegaHalloween

Halloween 2013

Imagination Overflow: Halloween ‘R’ Us

DeLand Beacon, November 28-December 1, 2013

In recent years, our technologies and hard work have produced an extraordinary abundance of information. Think of the richness this brings to our lives: information at our fingertips, awareness of events half a world away, instant communication—such as your ability to read this essay. The remaining frontier: How to keep up with the abundance, sort it out, and figure out how to use its richness to enrich our lives, rather than just leave us overwhelmed.  Continue reading